John McGrail
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John McGrail

Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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"Maybe somewhere in Cleveland, McGrail has voice mails saved from Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly—one asking him for the rights and one telling him he’s wrong."

Local singer-songwriter John McGrail tackles a lot of socio-political issues on his disc called Songs for Troubled Times. Not only is it his first solo release in almost a decade, he quickly sets out to tell you that not much has changed during that time. Except, perhaps, that he is an even better guitar player and lyricist than the last time you heard ‘em.

Fairly or unfairly, McGrail gets roped into the “folkie” category. Truth is, he has quite the historical handle on a lot of different musical genres — progressive rock, modern jazz, classical, folk, classic rock and world music. And to complicate things even more, he’s one hell of a guitar player who knows how to coax tones out in just the right way.

He gets a lot of rich, crystallized guitar tone on the set opener “Earthday,” which picks at Dubya’s dad even as McGrail himself picks at tone quality the likes of Eric Johnson would be proud of. He switches gears with the following modern rock track, “Sometimes We Just Forget,” which would make a fine bedfellow for the recent Push Stars disc.

It’s when McGrail really turns up the heat on the political issues that he tends to earn those folkie armbands he’s probably grown used to wearing. Not that it’s a bad thing. Tunes like “Losing Our Voice,” “Almost Funny,” “Just Like Tim McVeigh” and “What Would Jesus Say?” are weighted with folk rock leanings and rather obvious intent.

And then there’s “Genocide Johnny,” a song that McGrail wrote about a fictional (or not?) co-worker “jerk” who myopically wants to destroy all Muslims. “He said, ‘I’m proud to be an American because we’re always right/War is good so long as we get to pick the fight,’” McGrail growls, linking this particular Johnny to Saddam Hussein.

Maybe somewhere in Cleveland, McGrail has voice mails saved from Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly—one asking him for the rights and one telling him he’s wrong.

- Cool Cleveland contributor Peter Chakerian

"...shouldn't be ignored."

Of all the anti-Bush records in recent months, John McGrail's Songs for Troubled Times is likely to be the most musically ambitious and lyrically heavy-handed. McGrail pulls no punches and has much to say, but he isn't going to let you get away without doing some thinking of your own; this is protest music that goes beyond sloganeering. Ostensibly a folk singer, McGrail is all over the place stylistically; folk takes a backseat to hard rock, alternative rock, and country rock. "Earthday," his screed against environmental abuse, is an excellent U2 impersonation, and "Sometimes We Forget" will have listeners over 50 remembering the Byrds' classic 1967 "Notorious Byrd Brothers." Two bouncy tunes, "Genocide Johnny" and "Just Like Tim McVeigh," are McGrail's most obvious, as is the metal-flavored "Almost Funny." This won't appeal to everyone, but it shouldn't be ignored.

- The Cleveland Scene by Steve Byrne

"“He’s got blockbuster ones (songs)"

“He’s got blockbuster ones (songs) as he showed... not only has a strong resonant voice, but he also knows how to play a guitar

Jane Scott,
Cleveland Plain Dealer - Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Knows how to play guitar"

The opening act, local acoustic guitarist John McGrail, practiced upstairs in the dressing room just to get his fingers warmed up. It was worth it. McGrail not only has a strong resonant voice but also knows how to play the guitar

Jane Scott
Cleveland Plain Dealer - Cleveland Plain Dealer

"A Great, chilling recording"

Stained Bliss
John McGrail

What does one make of the title to John McGrail's latest disc, Stained Bliss? From the artist's mouth: "A happiness that is tainted. A good life with imperfections." Works for us and, apparently, for the host of characters who wander through McGrail's dusty tales. The singer-songwriter and guitar maestro entwines experimental flair and indie-rock pathos with jangly folk rock, greasy blues and haymaking country on this winner. But like his compatriot Susan Weber, McGrail is not content to stop there, making those styles hauntingly ethereal. The bluesy "90-Year-Old Man," "Fallen Angel" and plaintive "To His Knees" definitely have the ghosts of others in them; the jangly warmth of "All Our Fallen Tears" feels like an old friend and a campfire in September and "Anger," which offers decidedly lo-fi indie-folk vibe with its nods to Dylan and Ochs...? Well, it offers numbness in the face of stark, raving violence. Credit where it's due… this is a great, chilling recording from someone who has managed to stay below the radar in Cleveland. To be fair, McGrail isn't for everyone... but when a songwriter makes you wonder if it's his heart or the blood from someone else's on his sleeve, well, that's gotta be worth something.

From Cool Cleveland Managing Editor Peter Chakerian - Cool Cleveland

"Songs for Troubled Times , focuses entirely on social and political commentary."

Locally, there's acoustic performer John McGrail, who has long included a couple of issue-related songs among his sensitive singer-songwriter odes. But his new disc, Songs for Troubled Times , focuses entirely on social and political commentary.

Says McGrail, who participated in a September 9 Beat Bush Bash at the Beachland headlined by Bern, “I wasn't that political; I was more socially oriented. I had written a song called “Don't Resist” that could be interpreted as political but it wasn't as pointed. But when Bush got elected, I found myself writing more and more things like that. I didn't like the way he got into office. I didn't like the way he changed environmental policy. This guy incenses me to the point where I have to do something. I couldn't do a regular album right now.”

- The Cleveland Free Times

"Latest Release "Stained Bliss""

John McGrail
Stained Bliss (self-released)
On his latest disc, singer/songwriter/guitarist John McGrail weaves strands of rootsy folk-rock, blues and country with twittering percussion, droning guitars, ambient sounds and eerie, often heavily processed vocals. He covers some adventurous sonic terrain here, roughing up or expanding upon relatively simple melodies, sparse arrangements and raw production, and mixing them in unexpected ways to create an edgy sound on tunes that deal with sober topics ranging from racism to aging and death. "All Our Fallen Tears" opens with a flurry of sound effects before resolving into the song. The disorienting "Anger" juxtaposes violent lyrics with an almost deadpan vocal, plush harmonies and delicate music. Rattling percussion gives "One by One" a noisy bounce until it wraps up with some quiet acoustic guitar. Other songs feel positively ancient. The stark, a cappella "I'll Not Be Fulfilled" feels like a newly discovered traditional mountain ballad and "90 Year Old Man" exudes a mournful blues vibe. — Anastasia Pantsios
- The Cleveland Free Times


Stained Bliss (2008)
Songs For Troubled Times (2004)
The Sun (1997)



In his home town of Cleveland they call him a folkie. But is that really accurate? Sure when he performs in concert it is predominantly an acoustic guitar and his voice but does that make it folk music? Is the opening cut from his latest album “All Our Fallen Tears” a folk song or “One By One” or “You”?. Since when have power chords been part of the folk music scene? Yes there are songs that might fall into that medium. Delicate songs like “Don’t Make Me Stay” or “To His Knees” or “All Stays the Same”. Perhaps the socio-political nature of some of the songs like “Aryan Nation Man”, "Sons Of Abraham" and others would be of a folk leaning but when the song is in 5/4 time what does it become then? Can you see Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan playing this stuff? Maybe... maybe not. The spirit is certainly there. So is it folk?? Who knows and does it really matter? Not to John. He just wants to play his music. He will do it the way he wants. He will make it so it sounds the way he wants it to sound. At that point he hopes the world will appreciate it. If it doesn’t well, he may be disappointed, but his life is no worse for wear. An artist has to make one’s art, regardless of medium, and then hope for the best. If one does that then one can be happy.

John has been playing the guitar and writing songs for 30+ years and performing for most of that time. He has opened for such national acts as The Cowboy Junkies, The Proclaimers, Texas, political folk singer Dan Bern (of Righteous Babe Records) and Don Conoscenti. Additionally he has performed with The Chieftains and Native American singer songwriter Bill Miller. His music has taken him to Ireland, Europe, Africa and Mexico.